Weighing In

Fad diets tend to come and go as quickly as the seasons. In our constant quest to look our best—and hopefully feel our best—we embark on a search for ways we can enjoy eating, but not have it show. A few diets reach national attention—Jenny Craig, Atkins, Nutrisystems, South Beach and Weight Watchers to name a few. Occasionally, a diet comes out of left field that seems to work miracles in helping us lose weight quickly. It’s popularity spreads by word of mouth, goes viral on the internet and before you know it everyone seems is trying it on for size. As health professionals, the questions we wrestle with are whether this diet really works, is it safe and will the results last?

Now comes one of the more recent diets in this line of adipose busters and clinics are cropping up everywhere to cash in on this money-maker while they can.The HCG diet seems to make pounds melt away faster than a snow flake in the Oklahoma heat. It relies on two fundamentals: one based on junk science and one we know works, but is not sustainable or safe long-term.

First the junk science: initially and throughout the treatment these clinics rely on oral, and more often, injectable forms of human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (HCG). HCG was first extracted from the urine of pregnant women, now it’s synthetized in the lab. According to them, HCG supposedly helps the body “melt away fat.” Trouble is there are no valid scientific facts to support that claim and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to endorse its use for this purpose. And trust me, despite the claim of one prominent proponent, the medical establishment does want you to know what’s safe.

One clue to the dubious research is a requirement by these clinics that you sign a waiver releasing them from liability—in the event you should grow a third eye, or experience any of many serious side effects. Before these clinics start the real program, they ask you to eat anything and everything for a few days. They claim it’s to ‘prime the pump’ (so to speak), but actually it’s so you’ll experience tremendous loss of water (not fat), what we call scale weight, causing tremendous excitement and convincing you the hormone shots are working.

Next they have you begin what we know actually works—a very low-calorie (500 calories a day) diet that excludes all carbohydrates and simple sugars (sweets). You’re asked to keep extensive, daily food diaries and meet weekly with their staff—because they know if you cheat you gain. One would think they would have you exercise as well, after all this burns even more calories right? But they know you’ll experience protein breakdown, become prone to infections due to a lowered immune system and, more importantly, realize you don’t need their incredibly expensive, worthless injections (or entire program for that matter). After all, keeping you coming back pays their rent.

The biggest problem with these very low-calorie diets, other than the health risks described above, is they’re unsustainable. No one can subsist on 500 calories a day for an extended length of time. Current famine crises in Darfur and Nigeria are certainly proof of that. If your goal is to go on one of these diets until you reach your goal weight, what happens then? If you begin to eat as you did before the HCG diet, the weight comes roaring back and you add even more extra pounds. Once the body has been in a starvation mode it counters this threat by gaining and storing every ounce it can get. Of course, you could pay again and go through another hormone cycle, but then you face the health risks of weight cycling.

So what’s a person to do? I’m a fan of “The Biggest Loser,” because they prove repeatedly that sensible, healthy diets combined with exercise can achieve weight loss in anyone. And I do mean ANYONE. So skip the urine hormone clinics and look for a sensible program you can stay on the rest of your life. Your future health, and your pocketbook, will thank you.

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About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.

3 Responses to “Weighing In”

  1. Weight lifting is the single greatest beneficial thing you can do to promote fat loss, other than controlling your dietary intake. However, take note that your actual weight may increase because muscle weighs more than fat. Instead of using a scale to gauge your progress, use a measuring tape, or your belt, as muscle takes up much less space than fat. Weight Lifting will increase your metabolism if used by itself; however, for the best results, add some cardio (in the form of treadmill or bike) to your workout as well. Remember, long sustained cardio is better for fat loss than hardcore aerobic cardio, which is better for overall metabolismm.

  2. Just wondering if you read “Pounds & Inches, A New Approach to Obesity” by A.T.W. Simeons, M.D. He originated the HCG program at the Salvator Mundi International Hospital in Rome. It is a 60-page book/discussion wherein Dr. Simeons “discusses a new interpretation of the nature of obesity, and while it does not advocate yet another fancy slimming diet it does describe a method of treatment which has grown out of theoretical considerations based on clinical observation.” If you haven’t read it, here’s a direct link to his in-depth discussion: http://www.hcgdietinfo.com/Dr-ATW-Simeons-Pounds-and-Inches.htm. It was written with both medical professionals and average lay people in mind. Dr. Simeons died in 1970.

    Here is another link for a double-blind study: http://www.hcgfatloss.com/hcg-medical-documents/hcg-for-weight-loss-a-double-blind-study.htm

    I’m assuming you’ve probably read all of this, but if not, it would be worth the read…. maybe.

  3. amazing post, greatly informative.

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